Editorial: July 2006
For several months now I have been talking about setting up a new reef tank in Portland Maine, with the goal of moving all of my animals to their new home. I had done this before, when in 1999 I moved the inhabitants of 3 reef tanks from Brooklyn NY to Provincetown MA, into a newly setup 10-foot tank. That move went extremely well – I didn’t lose an animal. This time however, things ended tragically. Although, all the invertebrates – corals, crabs, cukes, snails, etc. – survived the move and are flourishing in the new reef tank, I lost all of my fish. This was so traumatic for me that this is the first time I’m writing about it. As some of you know, many of the fish that I lost where with me for 20-years, and my Amphiprion frenatus for 24-years. All of them were killed by a parasite, which I have good reason to believe was either Brooklynella hostilis or Amyloodinium ocellatum. More about this latter. Right now I want to memorialize my finned guests with a series of photographs taken of them over the years. This is also the first time that I have been able to look at these pictures myself.
I moved all of the inverts and fish at the same time because my collection of surgeonfish was very territorial and if I just moved a few and added the others latter it would have resulted in warfare; at least, so my reasoning went. Initially, the move went well. Within a few hours of the move, all of the fish were feeding and searching for hiding places. In fact, everything was fine for three days, when I went back to the Cape to pick up some equipment. Within several hours I received a phone call from my son telling me that something was wrong with the fish. I jumped in my car and drove back to Portland, only to find most of the fish dead or dying. Their bodies where heavily slimmed up, and an examination of the gills of the already dead showed massive hemorrhaging. This explosion of parasites literally took place in 24-hours, and within 4-days every fish was dead.
How this did happen and where did the parasite come from? I strongly suspect that the parasite was in the system, but held in check by the established fish’s immune systems, and also that the old sand bed and heavy concentration of corals ate most of the new parasites (tomontes) before they could find a host. Both of these parasites, under conditions that favor them, will reproduce at deadly speed. The new tank had a new sand bed, and the fish were clearly stressed by the move. The notion that we can keep parasites completely out of a reef tank with an extensive collection of fish is probably fool hardy; what we can hope for is an environment that favors the fish. Clearly, having moved my animals once with success was no guarantee that I would be successful again.
For someone who has been keeping marine fish in captivity for close to 40-years it was an experience both painful and very humbling.